By Linda S. Gunther
The doorman tapped his cap with a pert “good morning” and opened the high arched door to the gray stone building. Lanie was dressed in white from head to toe. Her knee length white pencil skirt, a long slit up the right thigh felt tight around her hips. A wide white leather belt at her waist gave her more of an hour-glass shape. The white chiffon blouse she wore with its fanned three-quarter sleeves helped her feel elegant, a narrow-pleated fringe bordering its v-neckline. She had borrowed the ensemble including the white Loubouton shoes from her best friend Thea who was married to a Wall Street executive. The elite couple lived in a brownstone on the upper west side with a view of the park. The only things on Lanie’s body that belonged to her were her knock-off Gucci sunglasses, the ones she purchased for twenty bucks from a street vendor, those and her slimming tummy control undies, the pair she used for special occasions. Thea had also insisted Lanie borrow a two-carat red ruby brooch and the platinum drop earrings all of which her extravagant husband Daniel had purchased on a business trip to Mozambique and then gifted to Thea last Christmas. Lanie wore the borrowed brooch centered on the low-cut white blouse set between her breasts which were pushed up with a wired bra also borrowed from Thea. Lanie was headed to a loft on the 29th floor for the audition. She pressed the button for the elevator.
The day before the audition, Lanie had stopped by the talent agency’s office to see Albert Conroy and drop off her updated headshot. She wanted his opinion and since he hadn’t responded to the email she sent two weeks ago with the attached photograph, she decided to stop by. With a stroke of luck, he’d be there. The front desk receptionist’s chair was empty. She must be out to lunch. Behind the chair Lanie eyed Conroy’s office door which was slightly ajar. Probably both at lunch. Lanie hesitated but wanted to at least leave him a note with her headshot. He was a one man show but his agency had been recommended to Lanie by several working actor friends and so, she signed with him almost twelve months before.
She tapped the office door open just a little more. Conroy was there, pacing back and forth, his head down, tapping a pencil on his half-bald head. He wore a dark brown suit and white shirt. He was on the other side of fifty and looked older than she remembered. He appeared agitated, his head shaking back and forth.
“You got my sandwich?” he barked, his eyes on the blue paisley carpet.
She was about to sneak out when he looked up.
“Damn,” he said. “I thought you were…” He squinted. “Uh, Lacey, right? You’re a talent client?”
“Lanie Lynn Carver,” she said quietly, wishing she hadn’t come. “Yes, I’m one of your clients.” He didn’t even know her name and she’d been with him for over a year, admittedly with only five audition calls under her belt, and only one where she was actually cast. It was a 30-second on-screen win and she received $950 for it.
Conroy flopped down on his bark brown leather sofa, his legs straight out. He threw the pencil on the coffee table, yanked on his striped tie to loosen it and pressed his palms to his temples. “Lanie Lynn Carver, forgive me. I’ve had a crap morning.”
She hung close to the door, her headshot in hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Didn’t mean to interrupt you. I was hoping for just a minute of your time. Wanted your opinion on my new headshot.” She rushed the words. “I’ll leave this on your desk for later.”
He held his hand out, his eyes closed. “Let me see it,” he said.
She glanced at the glossy headshot. A portrait photographer Lanie met at Thea’s last dinner party had generously granted her a studio session without accepting a fee. The best out of ten was a black and white close-up, Lanie’s wavy dark shoulder-length hair flared out across her shoulders. Thea had done Lanie’s make-up just before the shoot. Her dark eyes were the center of attraction in the shot. The photographer had captured the hint of a sassy grin on her face and the two tiny indents on either side of her mouth. Her lips looked full but still natural. It was the best headshot she ever had taken by a professional.
Conroy opened his eyes, rubbed his neck and sat up on the sofa. She handed the photograph to him, then stood away. He stared at the photo.
“Too much rouge,” he barked. “Cheeks, way too dark. Like a vampire. Those cheap street “togs,” why do they do that shit?”
He tossed the headshot to the coffee table, and missed. It hit the edge of the wood and landed on the carpet half under the sofa. Conroy made no move to pick it up. Her conscience told her to retreat gracefully, leave the man to his grumpiness. Any confidence she had drained from her. Who did she think she was, anyway? Employed as a part-time bookkeeper, and with a paltry half dozen acting classes at New York Film Academy. She had used the $15K inheritance from her grandmother to fund the classes which had resulted in an on-screen two-liner in an indie film and a few paid-days as an “extra” on a TV police drama.
Conroy’s office smelled of smoke which Lanie hadn’t noticed earlier. She looked over at his desk and spotted a filled silver ashtray. A half-smoked cigarette teetered its edge, bits of ash scattered around it. A headache was coming on, the dull pain behind her eyes growing. She had to get out of there but wanted to exit with some degree of decorum.
She looked over at him. “Mr. Conroy, I appreciate you taking a look. I guess we’ll stick with the headshot you already have…” Her voice trailed off. She started out the door, her legs weak.
“Have a seat,” he shouted.
Her mouth fell open. She pivoted, turning to him. He pointed. Lanie attempted to move gracefully to the chair which faced his cluttered mahogany desk.
Conroy got up and sauntered over to the high-backed brown leather swivel chair behind his desk. He opened the top drawer and lowered his mouth to a pack of cigarettes, lifting a Marlboro out with his teeth and giving it life with a fancy gold lighter. He sat back in the squeaky chair and took a long drag. The smoke made her feel queasy.
“Ridiculous habit, I know.” He said and took another puff. “What if I sent you on an audition?”
She straightened in her chair.
“Look, you won’t get the part,” he said, “but I promised this producer twenty ‘right fit’ potentials. Gave him nineteen out of twenty. All of them flopped. You’re not good for the role but I need number twenty or I don’t make the fat fee.”
“Thank you,” she said, “I really appreciate…”
“Save the accolades,” he swatted his hand in the air. “Tomorrow morning, 8:30 sharp. Can you do it?”
“Don’t get there early, but don’t be late. Address inside on the first page.” He handed her a red file folder. “Brand new Netflix series called West Side View. They filled this role already but the actor broke her leg a week ago. Zipline accident, I hear.”
Lanie gasped. “Oh, that’s terrible.”
“Yeah, bad break.” Conroy chuckled and puffed on the cigarette. “She wasn’t my talent anyway, so… He shrugged. “Read the sides. Five pages. Study it. Memorize it. And, no drinking tonight. Got that?”
Lanie took a deep breath. At least she’d have an audition.
He raised his eyebrows and jerked his head towards the door. She realized he wanted her to leave.
She stood up and quickly buttoned her hooded tan trench coat. From the window she could see it was still raining out there.
“Wait!” He called when she was almost through the office doorway. She turned to him.
“You’ll need to change that look you got going there,” he said. “They want totally upscale, filthy rich-looking and eye candy sexy.” He shook his head. “Can you make that transition within fifteen hours? I got standards.”
She had worn the London Fog raincoat with the hood because she wanted to come into the agency office without frizzed hair. The result; no frizzed hair but she looked frumpy, and she knew it.
“You won’t get the part,” he said again. ‘But my reputation’s on the line and the nice fee.
He took another drag on his cigarette. “Call me right after the audition.” He handed her his card.
She closed the door behind her and nodded to the young blonde she recognized who had just returned to the reception desk. “Humid out there and it’s only early Spring,” the woman said, shaking her hair out from the rain. “The sun’s supposed to come out later.”
“Good news,” Lanie replied, smiled at the woman, and left the agency.
She hopped the bus uptown to Thea’s brownstone, dropping her friend a voicemail while in transit. Thea’s housekeeper opened her front door. Her friend rushed out from the kitchen, gave Lanie a quick hug and pulled her down the hallway to the master bedroom. Thea grabbed several garments from her closet and proceeded to create an alternate Lanie that afternoon; elegant, expensive and exotic. “It’s all in the clothes and accoutrements. Like a frilly white blouse, tight white skirt and ruby brooch,” Thea said, admiring her masterpiece while Lanie stood before the long mirror.
“I’ll never look as good as you in these clothes,” Lanie said.
“Right,” Thea giggled. “The way I look is mostly due to surgeries and big bucks. The way you look is based on birth rights. Nothing added, nothing changed.”
Thea hung out with the New York City elite, CEO’s and politicians. But she hadn’t changed from when Lanie and Thea first met in junior high, two working class family girls growing up in Rego Park, Queens. Thea was always a rebel and spoke her mind whether surrounded by NYC royalty or hanging out at a Flushing bowling alley. She was a bold soul and Lanie loved that about her best friend.
Once at home, Lanie hung up the borrowed clothes in her messy closet, placed the Loubouton’s by her bedside, logged three hours of remote bookkeeping work for her employer, closed her laptop, and poured herself a glass of white wine. It was seven p.m. She picked up the red folder planning to study its content for the next several hours, however long it took to memorize and practice five pages of lines. The character was Corinne Calloway the billionaire daughter of a retail clothing department store chain.
About to take a sip of wine, Lanie recalled Albert Conroy’s words that day; “And, no drinking tonight. Got that?”
She poured the wine down the kitchen sink, sorry to see it go, and then sat at the dining table with the red folder. She walked the apartment rehearsing and memorizing lines until well past midnight.
Lanie got in the elevator headed up to the loft for her audition. It was 8:20, ten minutes from the targeted audition. Like Conroy told her. Don’t be late but don’t get there too early.
The door to the loft was half open. She glanced at her cell. 8:23. Should she knock or just enter? A middle-aged Asian woman, her hair in a bun, wearing sweats came through the doorway just as Lanie was about to knock.
“Excuse me,” the woman said in a high-pitched voice. “Starbucks run.” Leaving the loft entry door open the woman rushed into the open elevator. The man wearing a tan and white muted flowered Hawaiian shirt looked up from a small table which was covered in short stacks of paper, a white pad and pen in its center. He was maybe forty-five, salt and pepper hair, tanned skin. His eyes followed her as she came in and sat down on the folding chair which was set about five feet in front of the small table, the space to give it her all as Corrine, the billionaire daughter in the Netflix series. She smoothed her skirt, placed her white purse on the wood floor, sat down and crossed her legs, the script in her hand.
“You’re Lanie Lynn Carver?” he said, his eyes checking her out from head to toe.
“Yes, that’s me,” she replied.
“Stand up from the chair,” he said. “I don’t mean to be creepy. But please…:
“Can you turn to the left?” She did. “Now look at me.” He pressed his hands on the table, and rose from his chair, then folded his arms across his chest.
“Now, turn to the right.” His voice was gentle. She noticed how tall he was, probably six foot three.
“Great, let’s start with the dialogue,” he said more firmly. “I’ll read Edward. You read Corinne.” He sat down at the table and picked up a pen.
She rolled the script in her hand, put it down on her purse, and looked up at him, saying the first line.
“You conned me.”
She paused, feeling the anger rising inside. “I’m not your victim. You picked the wrong girl.” She got up from the chair and pointed her finger. “They warned me about you.” She glared at him, moved close to his table, then did the rest of the scene. She lost herself in Corrinne. Became the self-centered character but fell down at the very end, the final lines lost somewhere in the ozone. She had to get back to the chair, pick up the damn script to read her last few lines. She had lost her rhythm and fell out of character. Once finished, she sat back down on the chair, her body in a slump, embarrassed by her screw-up.
The handsome man put his head down on the table. He stayed there for at least a minute without moving, then picked up his cell phone and tapped in something, maybe a text, then waited, his eyes glued to the phone. He nodded, tapped more and sprung up from the chair coming close to her. “I’m Gavin Medina,” he said taking her hand.
“Gavin Medina,” she repeated. “The Director?” He was well-known, with films winning Indie awards and at least one Academy Award nomination that she knew of. “You directed String Theory and The End of an Era,” she said.
“Yup, that’s me. You know my work,” he grinned. His hands slid into his jean pockets. He moved back to the table, gathered up stacks of paper, stuffing it all into a black leather satchel, and picked up his cellphone.
“Ready to take the next step?” he said, without looking at her.
“There’s a stage two for this audition.”
She was startled. “Of course,” she said, although nervous as hell. Not for a second did she think the audition would go further.
“Then, follow me. And, don’t be alarmed. We’re going up to the roof.” He glanced at the cell phone again and put it in his back pocket.
Her heart pounded as she followed him through the loft entry door. The Asian woman came out of the elevator and handed Gavin a Starbuck’s cup.
“I’ll be back around four,” he said. “Miss Carver will be with me for the next few hours.”
Be with him? What did that mean? Although he was famous, Lanie felt jittery.
“Check in with you later,” the woman said. “I’ll close the place down.”
Gavin nodded, got into the elevator and waved his hand for Lanie to follow.
He pressed thirty-three, the top floor, without saying a word until the door opened, then politely waited for her to exit first. He led the way up a flight of stairs to another door. Lanie struggled to keep up in the five-inch Louboutons. He opened the door out to the rooftop where she heard a deafening whirring noise. It was windy, her hair swirling everywhere, her white chiffon blouse pulling from her skirt. A steel gray helicopter sat on a helipad, ready to take off.
“What the hell?” she blurted and tried to tuck her blouse in.
“You still game?” he said. “I promise you, part two is important,” he yelled over the noise. She nodded.
The sound and motion of the helicopter rotor scared her. She’d never been up in one of these and she was deathly afraid of heights. She’d have to battle herself not to show it.
He helped her get up the step and into the small seat. The pilot tapped his cap. Gavin climbed in next to Lanie, his jean pant leg against her bare skin. He touched her knee for a brief second but quickly removed it. He didn’t say a word during the ride. They had no headphones on and it was too noisy anyway. She sat, her hands on her small white purse, trying not to fiddle or show her nerves.
They were in flight for about thirty minutes, first over Manhattan, then over green rolling hills, flat land, and then over mountains. The helicopter started its vertical descent. Surprisingly, she wasn’t nauseous or scared and, in some way felt a sense of awe. But there was a lot snow down there even though mid-April and humid in Manhattan. Her discomfort returned. It looked cold and she only had on a sheer white chiffon blouse, a knee-length white skirt, and no hosiery. They landed. He helped her down from the craft. Hand in hand they sprinted away from the whirling rotor blades. Despite her high heels, she kept her balance.
A stocky man stepped out of a black limousine, holding a couple of folded white blankets. Gavin put a blanket around her shoulders. The air was cool but she didn’t feel uncomfortably chilled. She noticed a hairline scar above Gavin’s right eye. The limo headed up a road where it seemed the snow had been recently plowed. Flurries started to fall. The windshield wipers triggered. Lanie gazed out the window and watched the snow land and melt away. There seemed little wind.
“I wanted to see you up here,” Gavin said. “
Lanie nodded, wondering his intent. Was she being abducted by some kind of a maniac?
The limo came to a stop after about ten minutes. “Corinne, the character,” Gavin said, “has a second house in the Catskills. A lot of the action in this series happens right here.”
Giant trees lined both sides of the vehicle, white-covered ground and branches. Gavin got out of the limo and came around to open her door.
“Can you leave the blanket in the limo?” he asked. “Just for a few minutes.”
“Um, okay,” she said. In the stilettos, it was difficult to stand up in the snow, but she managed it. It was quiet outside except the chirping of a small bird which she saw fly from one tree branch to another.
“I want you to do the scene again,” he said. “You’ve got most of the lines down, right?”
“Think so,” she murmured.
He led her close to a set of tall trees clustered close together. There was a logged mountain house structure in the far distance. She could see it through the trees. He stood back and raised his cellphone. “I’m going to film it,” he said. His friendly grin gave her comfort.
She realized that the pure white of her outfit, the blouse, the skirt, the shoes must be quite a sight through the lens, no matter what her hair might look like. Everything white except for the red ruby brooch centered on her blouse. Flurries continued to fall lightly around them.
“Walk towards me,” he said, “about ten steps and then start with your lines.”
She took a deep breath. Gavin stood under a snow-covered tree, the cellphone raised to his eyes. She moved slowly towards him.
Become Corinne, she told herself. “You conned me,” she said. “I’m not your victim,” she said walking then stopped in her tracks. “You picked the wrong girl.” She moved closer . “They warned me about you.”
“Cut,” Gavin shouted, stuffed the phone in the pocket of his jeans and applauded.
“Look,” he pointed to a tree branch a few feet behind her. She turned to see one single red flower in full bloom. It was the only flower, the only red anywhere to be seen in the midst of white.
“Early Spring,” Gavin smiled. We’ve got snow and one beautiful flower.” She looked down at her white chiffon blouse and eyed the red ruby brooch. It was a ridiculous coincidental visual alignment of color and form.
Gavin looked up to the sky and held his arms out.
“It has to be her!” he shouted, then picked Lanie up in his arms and twirled her around. “My Corinne.” Lanie closed her eyes and felt the flurries wet her cheeks, her nose, her eyelashes. Thea’s magic and maybe my talent, she thought to herself.
Linda S. Gunther is the author of six suspense novels: Ten Steps From the Hotel Inglaterra, Endangered Witness, Lost In The Wake, Finding Sandy Stonemeyer, Dream Beach and Death Is A Great Disguiser. Her essays and short stories have been featured in a variety of literary publications.
What a fun, exciting story! I loved every detail. I’m still smiling at the ending.